Mysterious Edinburgh itinerary

The view to the castle from Calton Hill in the city centre of Edinburgh. The Balmoral Clock Tower is visible
History ››

Edinburgh & The Lothians boasts a rich history which can be uncovered in castles, stately homes and battle sites.

Edinburgh Castle and the Ross Fountain, Princes Street Gardens
Royal Edinburgh ››

Follow this itinerary and discover royal connections in Edinburgh, including Edinburgh Castle and Royal Yacht Britannia.

Staff with a luggage cart pose for a photograph on the pavement in front of the entrance of the George Hotel, Edinburgh
Accommodation ››

Find everything from luxury hotels to cosy B&Bs, and great value self-catering options in and around the capital city.

Fringe goers use rickshaws to get around during the festival, Edinburgh
Travel ››

Find information on travel to and around Edinburgh & The Lothians by car, bus, train, plane and ferry.

As one of Europe’s oldest and most atmospheric cities, it’s not surprising that Edinburgh is said to be haunted by countless ghosts and ghouls. Explore the city's Old Town and discover the subterranean streets of Mary King’s Close. Learn about notorious characters like Burke and Hare and hear tales of supernatural goings-on…

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  • Edinburgh Castle at dusk
    Discover the mysterious side of Edinburgh
  • The Real Mary King's Close, a network of streets and houses located beneath the City Chambers on the Royal Mile
    The Real Mary King's Close, beneath the Royal Mile
  • A place setting at The Witchery Restaurant, Edinburgh
    The Witchery Restaurant, Edinburgh
  • The ‘Mad Monk’ holds a lantern in the shadow of St Giles High Kirk as part of the Witchery Tours
    Witchery Tours, the Royal Mile

Memorably described by the poet Hugh MacDiarmid as a ‘mad god’s dream’, it makes sense that fellow writer JK Rowling was inspired by Edinburgh’s other-worldly atmosphere when writing her wildly successful Harry Potter novels. The first novels about the boy wizard are said to have been scribbled in a café on Nicolson Street.

It’s hard to imagine a more perfect setting for a ghost sighting than while exploring the Old Town’s narrow alleyways – known locally as wynds or closes – on foot. Wander down the Royal Mile, the main thoroughfare of the Old Town. Some of the ghostly characters believed to haunt this succession of bustling streets include Deacon Brodie holding a lantern aloft with a set of keys in his other hand, and a galloping spectre on a white steed believed to be the ghost of General Tam Dalzell. Also known as 'Bluidy Tam', this Scottish Royalist general is said to have on occasion played cards with the Devil.

Looming high above the city atop Castle Rock sits Edinburgh Castle. This imposing fortress is not only home to Scottish Crown Jewels and the Stone of Destiny, it also boasts its own array of ghostly entities which include a headless drummer, a phantom piper and the spirit of Janet Douglas, Lady of Glamis, who was falsely accused of witchcraft and conspiracy to assassinate King James V and burnt at the stake in 1537.
 
Continue down the Royal Mile until you reach the Scottish Parliament. At the heart of this daringly modern structure sits the 17th century Queensberry Lodge which also has a macabre past. When the building was a hospital, a lady was frequently sighted sitting by a sickbed weeping profusely.

Pay a visit to the Palace of Holyroodhouse next and take a tour of its splendid Royal Apartments where the tragic Mary Queen of Scots resided from 1561 to 1567. It is here that the Queen married both of her ill-fated husbands, Lord Darnley and the Earl of Bothwell, and where the brutal murder of her private secretary David Rizzio took place in 1566. Although the reason behind Rizzio’s murder remains a mystery, most historians now believe that it was orchestrated by Lord Darnley who was jealous of his close relationship with the Queen.

The floorboards of the little supper room where Rizzio was stabbed 56 times are stained by what is purported to be his blood. It is said that the stains have persisted despite numerous attempts throughout the centuries to remove them.

One of Edinburgh’s most spine-chilling and historically authenticated tales is that of Burke and Hare, two Irish immigrants who turned to murder to supply bodies for anatomical dissections at Edinburgh Medical School in 1828.

While some resorted to illegal exhumation to satisfy the demand for cadavers in the 19th century, William Burke and William Hare chose a more expedient method by suffocating at least 16 of their lodging’s unsuspecting patrons. You can see Burke’s skeleton and death mask alongside the life mask of Hare on display in the Anatomy Museum of the University of Edinburgh. One of the most mysterious exhibits on show at the National Museum of Scotland may also be connected to this gruesome episode in Edinburgh’s history. The Arthur’s Seat Coffins – a collection of 17 miniature coffins with human figurines encased inside – were uncovered in 1836 by five young boys hunting for rabbits on the north-eastern slopes of the hills. No one knows why they were made and buried here or who made them, but one theory suggests that they represent a mock burial for the 17 known victims of Burke and Hare. Surgeon's Hall Museum also houses exhibits relating to the murders and boasts one of the oldest and most fascinating surgery and pathology collections in the world.

Another of Edinburgh’s most infamous characters was Deacon Brodie. A respected and prosperous cabinet-maker by day, at night Brodie became a ruthless burglar to fund his gambling addiction and maintain his two mistresses and illegitimate children. The spot where he and other criminals of the time were hung in the Grassmarket is marked by the ‘shadow' of a gibbet, also known as a gallows, in dark paving. The intriguing duality of Brodie's character as both criminal mastermind and pillar of his community held a profound fascination for Robert Louis Stevenson and inspired him to write The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde.
 

There are a myriad of ghost tours to choose from in Edinburgh during which you can come face to face with a whole host of spooky characters including ghouls, the Mad Monk of the Cowgate, witches and highway men executed centuries ago. Take a tour of the Edinburgh Vaults, a series of underground chambers located beneath the 19 arches of South Bridge. Practically untouched since falling out of use in the early 19th century, the Vaults are a hub of paranormal activity and considered one of the most haunted locations in Britain.

Or why not venture beneath the Old Town’s cobbled street and discover a hidden underground world where for nearly 300 years the city’s poor lived and died? The Real Mary King’s Close is a warren of streets and rooms that date back to the 1600s. Now submerged beneath the City Chambers, these closes were once open to the sky, bustling with traders selling their wares and residents going about their daily business. Partially demolished and buried beneath new buildings, the closes became shrouded in myth and legend, with blood-curdling tales of hauntings, murders and rumours of plague victims being walled up inside and left to die abounding.

Visit Mary King’s Close today however, and you’ll hear a very different story rooted in hard historical fact and archaeological evidence and – as is so often the case – far more fascinating than any fictional imagining. That's not to say the close doesn’t have its fair share of resident ghosts and paranormal activity. Visit the room where a young girl named ‘Annie’ has been seen asking for her doll and learn about unexplained sounds and the strange tale of the Coltheart family.

Bring the day to a close with a visit to the Witchery by the Castle, one of the finest restaurants in the UK. Located at the top of the Royal Mile, the restaurant takes its unusual name from the time during the 16th and 17th centuries when Castlehill saw hundreds of witches burnt at the stake. Enjoy delicious cuisine prepared using the best Scottish ingredients while feasting your eyes upon the opulent décor.